The 2023 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival kicked off on Friday at the New Orleans Fairgrounds and Racetrack. Fans came out in droves to relish many genres of music across 13 stages over three days in the post-pandemic celebration. It was a glorious start that began Friday.
The weather was perfect on Friday with sunshine and a breezy mid-70’s day at the track. Opening day had a plethora of big-name artists starting with Lizzo who brought out a huge crowd to see her debut performance at the festival.
She seems to be an icon in the making and it has been a long road to fame for the star. Depending on your perspective, the crowds were having a lot of difficulty getting to the stage. She was a little late starting the set, but admitted to being “hung over as shit” from celebrating her birthday the prior evening with a night out in the French Quarter.
She was set to headline fest 2020 and 2021, so the fans really packed in to partake in Lizzo’s performance. She admitted, “I’ve been on tour but, bitch, ain’t nothing like being at Jazz Fest.”
Her set was a combination of newer material and her hits like “Truth Hurts,” “Good as Hell” and “Juice.” She covered Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop” and part of Coldplay’s “Yellow.” She broke out her flute because “It’s about to get real jazzy in this bitch.” It was everything fans had anticipated and more.
Wu-Tang Clan and The Soul Rebels headlined the Congo Stage, providing a true collaboration that can only happen at Jazz Fest. As more and more members joined — U God, RZA and the GZA — the set was what fans hoped for. Raekwon’s voice is as strong as ever, and Ghostface sent chills up the spines of the faithful fans. Everyone in the Wu-Tang crowd just seemed happy to be there and loved the collaboration that unfolded on the stage.
Alison Krauss and Robert Plant brought out many of the old-timers in the crowd. The two singers performed together at jazz fest 15 years ago promoting the Grammy winning album, Raising Sand. Now they have a new album, Raise the Roof. It’s a combination of bluegrass, blues and folk music. Led Zeppelin fans were not disappointed when they did a rendition of “When the Levee Breaks.”
Tank and the Bangas and Big Freedia gave outstanding performances prior to Lizzo’s set, which provided the perfect prelude for Lizzo. They were certainly as entertaining and proved that they should always be on the main stage at the festival.
There were some outstanding interviews at the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage including Steve Miller, Allison Russell, and Charlie Musselwhite. All had many stories to tell and were well worth attending. Steve Miller has definitely lived a life and fans said they could listen to his stories for many more hours.
This year the festival went cashless and many people found the food and drink lines to be far more time-consuming than previous festivals. Fans were quick to react online with comments about missing the cash payment options. With practice, the situation improved as the weekend continued and lines moved much faster.
Many would argue that the food is the absolute best part of the festival with classic dishes that can only be found at Jazz Fest. Many of the vendors have been at the festival for decades, so they have it down to a science to produce as much food as possible. We have no doubt they will get even faster at Weekend 2.
On Saturday, the rain came and it came in hard at times for the afternoon sets. The festival is known to go on rain or shine and this was one of the days where you can see why many of the loyal fans love to get muddy and see their favorite artists decked out in their rain gear.
Many fans also took shelter from the downpour in the Gospel, Jazz and Blues tents and saw some amazing artists like Irma Thomas, who did a rousing set as Hoda Kobt and Jenna Bush from the Today show looked on from side stage. The two lived their very best festival life all weekend while filming for their live show in New Orleans on Monday and Tuesday.
The Revivalists cancelled their set due to an illness in the band around 2pm. Fans were disappointed to miss the band, but they can catch singer David Shaw at Weekend 2 on Saturday afternoon. Their slot was quickly filled by Samantha Fish featuring Jesse Dayton, who took the stage at 3:30 p.m.
In turn, Samantha’s 3:50 p.m. set on the Shell Gentilly Stage was scheduled to be filled by SOUL Brass Band.
Saturday headliner Ed Sheeran used a system of pedals that to record and “loop” the sounds he made onstage, which created full arrangements in real time. He tapped his acoustic guitar to make beats, slash a chord or two, loop it, then sang and played more on top of the parts he had just recorded. The fans loved him. On Friday, Sheeran announced a series of more intimate theater shows to accompany his football stadium headlining dates across America this summer.
Jazmine Sullivan took the stage in an all-black leather ensemble to singer her R&B hits to close out the Congo Stage on Saturday.
Steve Miller’s set was another fan favorite with many hits from the past predominant. Many fans walked out of the festival singing together as Miller closed his set with the iconic hit “Joker.”
On Sunday, the sun came back out as temperatures climbed and the mud dried up across the festival grounds. Saturday was all about guitars, guitars, guitars! Fans had a tough decision to make on whether to see Tedeschi Trucks Band or Marcus King. Both had stellar sets at the end of the day. Gary Clark Jr. played the slot before Tedeschi Truck while Kenny Neal and Little Freddie King rocked the Blues Tent.
Mardi Gras Indian culture also took center stage with performances by Cha Wa performing on the Congo Stage and Fi Yi Yi & the Mandingo Warriors on the Jazz & Heritage Stage. Festival staple Big Chief Monk Boudreaux & the Golden Eagles also performed.
Parades took place throughout the day at the festival with the Black Foot Hunters Black Masking Indians, 8th Ward Seminole, and Ninth Ward Hunters Mardi Gras Indians.
Jill Scott looked stunning as she took the stage at Congo and Kenny Loggins also performed on the Gentilly Stage to close the day on his farewell tour. Scott’s voice was pure magic and her crowd was huge, overflowing onto the main stage viewing areas.
The second weekend will have stellar entertainment as well. Headliners include Santana, Dead and Company, Kane Brown, Ludacris, H.E.R., Tom Jones and local favorite Jon Batiste. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue will close out the festival stage on Sunday. We can’t wait to see more wonderful live sets and eat more crawfish enchiladas.
Words By Mary Andrews and Amy Harris